The government is not planning to remove the black tape which was used recently to separate journalists from ministers during the Cabinet’s session. Only its color can be changed. “Well, if you don’t like the black tape, you can replace it with red,” told Ukraine’s Prime Minister Mykola Azarov to his press service in reply to a Telekrytyka journalist’s question during the press conference at the Cabinet’s Club. Azarov says that journalists need to learn how to behave and communicate properly. “I am displeased when I see a minister going to a meeting, with a journalist tugging at his sleeve and insisting on an answer to his question,” said Azarov at the press conference.
According to him, the Cabinet of Ministers has already come up with a schedule of meetings for ministers and journalists. Minister of energy Eduard Stavytsky was the first one to face the barrage of questions and flashes from cameras. Stavytsky’s press conference was scheduled on March 18). On March 19, Prime Minister Azarov and the first vice prime minister Serhii Arbuzov had meetings with journalists as well. However, the press conference with vice prime minister Yurii Boiko, which was slated on March 19 as well, is postponed for an indefinite period of time because of changes in his working schedule.
By the way, coming back to the topic of “proper communication skills” of mass media and government leaders: the prime minister’s previous press conference with journalists at the Cabinet’s Club took place more than a year ago.
The hour and a half long press conference with the prime minister passed quickly, without any tangible result. Was it so because of “wrong” questions or due to fake frankness? Instead, the answers to key questions that Ukrainian society faces today (how to revive the middle class, where to find the money to activate the economy, what is going to happen to Ukraine’s gas pipeline) were left behind the curtains of the show. And in the best case, they could be read between the lines.
For example, when the gas and transport consortium was discussed, Azarov hinted that the decision was hampered by… Europe. “The trilateral consortium depends on the third side. We are ready. Russia is ready. And where is the third side’s support? Where are the offers?” inquired Azarov. “We have been waiting for three years. How much longer must we wait? Now, you give us the offers. We have reached the point when a decision should be made.” When a qualifying question was asked whether this speech meant that Ukraine had made a decision concerning a bilateral consortium, Azarov answered in his traditional political manner: “The matter will be settled when we sign relevant agreements.”
Instead, the press conference with the first vice prime minister Arbuzov, which took place right after the meeting with Azarov, gave much food for thought, especially given that Arbuzov is often called Azarov’s successor.
The comparison of the very intonations of the two speeches is curious. While Azarov emphasizes the social side of matters in his answers, Arbuzov replies like a businessman.
For example, the question about the road problem. The questions to both prime minister and the first vice prime minister were asked by different journalists, but the emphasis was the same. Azarov replied: “Road authorities and absolutely all local governments have been set the same goal now: to mobilize absolutely all companies in order to get the roads in order before the warm season, I mean, before May, so we could use them without risking to lose a wheel or an axle, and so on. In other words, they need to conduct simple patching of roads.” Instead, Arbuzov started his answer with saying that Ukraine is not only an agrarian country. It is a transit country in the first place. And “we need to take care of roads because we make money by using them.”
The ways Azarov and Arbuzov took their leave after their respective press conferences are no less curious. The first one left the hall to the ripple of unenthusiastic applause, escorted by a wall of security guards. On the contrary, there was no applause for Arbuzov, and some journalists managed to catch him in front of the doorway and get answers for some non-format questions. One of them was about his relations with the president’s son. Arbuzov said that this topic was “overly demonized” at the moment. And when asked whether he had received an offer from the president to become prime minister, Arbuzov replied with a clear no.
And another, rather remarkable detail. Despite Arbuzov’s confident statements, the security service of the Cabinet’s Club is rather nervous at questions about Arbuzov replacing Azarov. When they realized that the photographers had been waiting for a juicy shot (when the organizers would replace the sign “Prime Minister of Ukraine Mykola Azarov” with “First Vice Prime Minister Serhii Arbuzov”), they decided they needed six (!) people to do that. One person was replacing the sign while the rest were covering the sacred process from cameras.
Viktor SUSLOV, former minister of economy:
“When you take a look at the statements made by Ukrainian leaders over the past 20 years and all the government programs, you can see that there has always been a huge gap between the words and the real development of economy. It has been degrading all these years, and the industry has been slowly decaying. But the officials never gave up their pep talk about their support of domestic manufacturers, and always found some technical projects that supposedly could bring Ukraine somewhere.
“So, that is how the wonderful detailed program of the Cabinet of Ministers was approved in 2011. It was dedicated to development of the domestic market and growth of industrial output. But in reality, everything happened just the other way round. During 2012, industrial output decreased by six percent, and is still falling. The incumbent government needs a realistic evaluation of the situation today. It is wonderful that a whole set of infrastructure projects (bridges, stadiums, airports) has been built. But all these projects have affected the economy in a negative way in general.
“There are two developing markets: the agrarian market and IT, but they cannot employ the number of people that will be laid-off in case industry collapses once and for all. We should remember that the IT industry exists only because it is oriented more on the foreign market. Besides, the IT industry is an example of how much business can achieve when it is not controlled by the state. Because in the rest of the branches, constant raids from supervising, regulating, and other bodies create huge obstacles for the development of business, which results in the suppression of the national economy’s development as well.
“A lot of projects, which the government pins too much hope on, will be hard to implement. Take the joint Ukraine-Brazil project of the Cyclone-4 rocket launch from the Alcantara launch base, for instance. The rocket is still to be created, though it had to be launched back in 2006. This project eats up loads of money, but there is no progress to be seen. Brazilian mass media have a negative opinion of this project as hopeless, because of Ukraine’s inobservance of its duties. But this is basically the last thing left in the Ukrainian space industry, which is slowly falling into decay. And even if Ukraine does create this rocket, difficulties with its launch might arise, since launch complexes are manufactured by Russia. And if we do not join the Customs Union now, we can cut off the access to cooperation in this area.”
Volodymyr LANOVY, former minister of economy:
“The financial system is failed completely. Economy’s revenues are close to zero. Banks do not receive resources for crediting. There is no one who needs credits anyway. And while all this is happening, Azarov is feeding us lullabies. Large credits and loans led us into a situation when government has to reduce social payments. The country is getting poorer, the consumer market is shrinking. We are basically coming back to 1991. This government came to revive the Soviet model. Not only the economic one, but also the informational, when they control almost all TV channels.
“This year we are going to experience the budget failure and decrease of revenues as compared to 2012. Besides, it is likely that pensions, salaries, and benefits will be axed. Also, I think that default of foreign bonds and default of the IMF credits will become reality this year. The default of domestic crediting is already here: they are withholding the payment of salaries (as it happened at the end of 2012).
“In order to find a way out of this situation, we need a private economy, and not an oligarchical one. That is, we need a free market, where independent entrepreneurs will compete. The regime has almost full control of the economy, just like it was during the Soviet time. This control is carried out through single sources: the public budget, central banks, etc. That is why there are no resources for the development of small, middle, large, and other business, independent of the state.”
Interviewed by Vitalii SELYK, The Day